Merck is a global biopharmaceutical company inspired by a shared vision and mission to save and improve lives. This commitment extends to our employees. LIVE IT is our holistic approach to well-being designed by and for employees and their families to be healthier and more productive, both professionally and personally. LIVE IT includes four components:
- preventive services within PREVENT IT;
- emotional, mental and financial health within BALANCE IT;
- physical activity/movement within MOVE IT and
- nutrition within FUEL IT.
LIVE IT serves as a call to action to our employees for enhancing physical, emotional and financial health. Within the framework of LIVE IT, the components are flexible to allow for employee needs and cultural nuances. At Merck, we’re not just Inventing for Life, we LIVE IT.
Merck has approximately 69,000 employees worldwide. About 35% are located in the United States, of which 83% are located in U.S.-based worksites. Our company has presence in more than 80 countries and operates in 140 countries.
LIVE IT – A Holistic Approach to Well-being Designed by and for Merck Employees and Their Families
At Merck, we address mental health through the LIVE IT BALANCE IT component. Results from our annual Personal Health Assessment in the U.S. and biennial Global Employee Voice Survey demonstrate that stress is a common issue among our employees. Over 40% of U.S.-based employees surveyed identified stress as a top health issue. Despite the fact that this percentage is close to benchmark, we recognize the importance of supporting well-being as it relates to stress and resiliency.
We developed a global strategy to ensure that the majority of our employees had access to resources to address mental health regardless of which country they work. We recognized the opportunity to introduce a Global Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to support employees experiencing stress and the stigma associated with mental health issues.
In April 2016, we launched Resources for Living, a Global EAP and Work-Life Program to employees and their family members in 83 countries and in 23 languages. Significant resources were dedicated to ensure effective program promotion and awareness. The EAP consists of four key services:
- In-the-moment telephone support for daily relationship challenges, work issues and everyday stress.
- Professional counseling sessions for personal, family or emotional issues (telephone, face-to-face, or video sessions).
- Work-life services for everyday help and everyday needs, such as finding assisted living for aging parent or support with child care services.
- Crisis support for unanticipated events.
To ensure a seamless user experience, EAP counselors were trained on the portfolio of our employee benefits so members could be referred to relevant services when needed, such as personalized health coaching, health advocacy and provider referrals.
This program expanded EAP coverage from 15 to 83 countries, with greater consistency in program governance and administration. Post-launch, the global utilization rate exceeded benchmarks provided by our Global EAP. Assessment of the Global EAP services showed that the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Australia, the UK and Turkey had the highest utilization rates. The most common mental health services requested were in response to personal stress, anxiety/depression, and workplace stress and workplace performance issues.
Building a Culture that Supports Mental Health
To help expand and extend mental health services across our population, we offer web access to a variety of services. Digital mindfulness exercises, stress reduction techniques, cognitive behavioral therapy, behavioral activation and motivational interviewing are examples. The EAP website offers a diverse range of tools and resources on behavioral health and work-life balance topics. Endorsement of employee emotional well-being from leadership helped to reduce the stigma associated with using these services. Local management ensured that cultural awareness was incorporated into the program promotion.
In an effort to raise awareness of mental health and reduce the stigma often associated with it, our Cramlington UK site took the initiative to train a mixed team of 24 Mental Health First Aiders through a two-day course at the end of 2015. People managers were also provided and encouraged to complete a two-hour awareness training.
Senior leadership was a strong supporter of this training experience. The mental health first aid training spread to the remaining four UK sites and has become a country wide initiative managed completely by employee volunteers.
In the U.S. we are taking learnings from our UK colleagues to implement mental health first aid training to employee volunteer ‘ambassadors.’ This began with a two-hour mental health first aid course held in our corporate headquarters earlier this year. The mental health first aid course provides the type of training needed to assist someone experiencing a mental health crisis. In this two-hour training session focused on anxiety and depression, the employees learn what it is, how it is treated and how they can help someone in need. Over 30 employees were trained. These employees will become our first task force ambassadors with the vision to: create a work environment that has an inclusive and supportive environment that values employees’ overall health, including emotional well-being and mental health creating a foundation for a culture of openness, acceptance, understanding and compassion. Objectives of task force is to reduce the stigma of mental health within our workplace by:
- Helping to raise awareness that mental health conditions are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing—and that knowing the facts about mental illness can help reject stigmatizing stereotypes
- Promoting relevant support services our company offers
- Leading by example to help replace silence and stigma with acceptance and compassion
We have many ways that we communicate with our employees. With over 24,000 employees dispersed around the U.S., we provide relevant health and wellness information through several different channels and formats to reach as many employees, as possible wherever they are. We offer an employee intranet well-being portal called LIVE IT, which contains information about many of the programs and resources our company offers to keep our employees healthy. We also proactively distribute a monthly electronic newsletter which is sent to all US employees which includes updates and educational programs offered that month on LIVE IT (Well-being), Total Rewards (Compensation and Benefits) and Diversity. In addition, we have launched four Wellness Champion Networks at all of our major sites and are now working to expand this network to many of our small sites. Our Champions join the network because they are passionate about the importance of well-being to our company and employees.
Mental Health Programming
We take a balanced approach to improve employees’ emotional/mental health. Our EAP provides in-the-moment telephone support along with professional counseling and crisis support. Our EAP vendor also offers a “My Strength” tool, which is based in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and available online 24/7 at no cost to employees. It is an evidence-based, private and confidential digital self-help resource for emotional health and overall well-being. We spotlight this tool in newsletters, during mindfulness sessions, and provide training on the “My Strength” tool/features with our wellness champions.
New features to the “My Strength” tool include sleep, LGBTQ+ Resources, Opioid Management & Addiction Recovery and Pregnancy and Postpartum Mental Health.
Over the past two years, we have coordinated global webcasts on well-being topics such as Mindfulness and most recently on reducing the stigma of mental health. Andy Lee, Chief Mindfulness Officer of Aetna, conducted our 2017 Mindfulness webcast. Over 5,000 employees attended or watched this global webcast. This year on World Mental Health Day, Christine Moutier, M.D., Chief Medical Officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, presented – Emotional Well-being and What We Can Do Together: A global webcast focused on supporting emotional well-being and reducing the stigma of mental illness. An email invitation was sent from our C-Suite Member who is also our GD&I Council Sponsor. Having C-Suite Members invite people into the BALANCE IT efforts has made a difference in acceptance. Over 950 employees joined live and via webcast.
Because gratitude is a component of emotional health, we run an annual 30-day gratitude challenge in November. This is coordinated with our Merck employee wellness champions. We create posters that employees can post a sticky note of something they were thankful for. After 30 days we collect the sticky notes and create a Word Cloud of gratitude messages which gets featured in our U.S. HR newsletter and Yammer/social media platform.
- Stigma associated with EAP is not universal. It is correlated with employee education level, local cultural norms and social acceptance. In some emerging markets, EAP is perceived as a contemporary program and employees were curious to explore the tools and services provided.
- Program language and symbols have different meanings. The imagery or the branding in one country and culture may be interpreted differently in another country or culture. For example, a pile of rocks may represent tranquility in some cultures but is considered a burial symbol in another. Language and symbols should be assessed for local interpretation.
- Compliance and tax implications may exist. It is important to understand whether EAP is considered a benefit in kind and taxable for employees. We needed to address this with EAP providers and local tax advisors.
- Leadership support is a critical success factor. Senior corporate leaders and local country management were instrumental in preparing for the launch, engaging employees early and building awareness and enthusiasm.
Increasing employee awareness and engagement, and continued efforts to mitigate stigma associated with emotional and mental health issues, remain priorities. Merck’s Employee Population Health and Human Resource teams are initiating a Wellness Champions Network to encourage use of EAP resources and educate on other aspects of employee health and well-being. With leadership support, program promotion across functional areas and regions and a dedicated effort to create work environments that support Total Worker Health, we will achieve our goal of becoming one of the healthiest workforces in the world.
Kenneth C. Frazier
Chairman and CEO